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History of the Australian Wine & Grape Industry


The Wine and Grape Industry in Australia has a long and interesting history. The first vines arrived in Australia in 1788, and after an unsuccessful planting at Farm Cove (the site of the present Sydney Botanical Gardens ), were transplanted to Parramatta , west of Sydney .

Wine growing and making didn't really take off at this time due to various difficulties such as problems with growing conditions and storage. A shipment of vines later on from France proved more successful and Australia began shipping wine overseas (mainly to Britain ) from the early 1800's. It also seems that quality wine wasn't actually produced and transported until the early part of the 1900's due to technical innovations in the industry.

By the mid 1820s, Australian wine production had reached some 90 thousand litres. At about this time, Australian wines began to win medals at European wine fairs.

As European settlement spread over the Australian continent, so did the planting and propagation of the vine. By the turn of the century, Australia had become a major supplier to the United Kingdom with annual shipments approaching 4.5 million litres of mainly full bodied, dry red wines.

By the end of World War II , Australia was producing 117 million litres of wine per year. The waves of post-war migrants from continental European countries who brought with them their well-established wine culture pushed the Australian industry into further growth.

The industry's success has been the result of development of new grape growing areas (Australia has large tracts of superior grape-growing land), a rigorous show system to set the standards for quality, and continuously improving vineyard practices, winemaking techniques, and equipment.

South Australia , Victoria , and New South Wales (in Australia 's southeast quarter) are the largest producers, accounting for 98% of wine grape production. Western Australia and Tasmania have smaller wine industries which are growing rapidly in both volume and quality. Some highly reputed wine areas are Margaret River in Western Australia , Coonawarra, Padthaway, Barossa, and McLaren Vale in South Australia , Yarra Valley in Victoria , and Hunter Valley in New South Wales .

The hallmarks of Australian wines are generous flavour, forward complexity, and balance.

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Wine grape growing began soon after the arrival of European settlers in Australia with grapevines among the cargo of the First Fleet of 1788.  By 1803 these early settlers were reading an article in the Sydney Gazette newspaper on a “Method of preparing apiece of Land for the purpose of forming a vineyard” (translated from French).

An influential figure in the fledging Australian wine sector was viticulturist James Busby.  Busby had lived near Bordeaux in France before immigrating to Australia in 1824 and running an agricultural school which specialized in viticulture.  In 1830, Busby took the first cask of wine made from the school's vineyard to England where it was pronounced by the palates of the time as “very promising”.

In 1831, Busby undertook a three month tour of Spain and France and returned with a collection of 543 vine cuttings (362 of which survived) and started the first source block in Sydney's Botanic Gardens, along with duplicate blocks in Victoria and South Australia.

Virtually every variety now recognized by the world's wine drinkers – from Shiraz and Cabernet to Riesling and Muscat – was launched from these blocks.  By the 1850s, large areas of vineyard were developed in Victoria , NSW and South Australia .

Australia has been making and exporting wine in a serious way since the 1850s when a gold rush in the State of Victoria trebled the young nation's population, creating a cashed-up middle class keen to enjoy a glass of wine with meals.

In fact, some of the oldest vines in the world are in Australia , because most of the nation's wine regions escaped the plague of phylloxera which wiped out many ancient plantings in Europe during the 1800s.

For the majority of the 1800s and into the mid 1900s, the Australian wine sector primarily serviced a steadily growing domestic demand for wine with occasional forays into export markets.
In the mid-1980s the Australian wine sector turned its gaze outwards, spurred on by changing domestic tastes which encouraged the development of high quality red and white wines.

One of Australia 's early export success stories was Chardonnay, a well-made full-flavour style that became hugely popular in the United Kingdom because of its consistent quality and marketing.
Chardonnay's success was quickly joined by the rich fruit flavours of Australian Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.

By the mid-1990s, white wines such as Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon became popular, and more recently Pinot Gris and Viognier.

As for Australia 's other great red styles - Grenache, Pinot Noir and Merlot – all have been exported with great success.

Today, wine exports are a multi-billion-dollar enterprise that continue to grow as more consumers around the world enjoy the quality and diversity of Australian wine.


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